|Update, August 26th 06|
On the subject of the 400 point qualifying score, let me tell you a story.
Back in 1998 my mother sent me $100 for my birthday. I think it was intended to help out with the bills, but that's not exactly what happened. I took the money, ran straight to the SPCA and adopted a dog. She was a 6-month-old yellow lab, and I named her Cannelle.
We started obedience training and Cannelle turned out to be a quick and enthusiastic learner. When we got to competition level, though, there was a hitch. Cannelle, being an SPCA dog, didn't have her registration papers and obedience seems to pride itself on being an "exclusive" sport. No papers, no dice. So that was it for us.
We looked round for something else to do and discovered agility. For agility you don't need a purebred dog, they take everybody, even SPCA dogs with no papers. So Cannelle and I enrolled for class – and we loved it! But still, there was a hitch. Because of her size, Cannelle had to jump 26 inches, and at that height she couldn't manage the spreads. After she injured herself a couple times I resigned myself to not competing – but I should have remembered that agility isn't like that. I discovered a "special" class tailor-made for us, because in agility they take everybody, even SPCA dogs with no papers who can't manage spreads.
And so began our trial career. A year went by, and we earned our novice title. The following year, working towards our advanced title, someone told us about the Regional Championships. Actually, it wasn't only the Regionals, it was the Nationals too, which would be held in Montreal that year, just down the road from our house. To go to the Nationals you had to earn 300 points at the Regionals; I knew it might be difficult for us, but it was doable if we worked hard and who knew when the Nationals would come back east. What a pity that we weren't in Masters yet; it meant we couldn't go to the Regionals! At least, that's what I thought. But I should have remembered that agility isn't like that. They take everybody at their championships, even SPCA dogs with no papers, who can't manage spreads and aren't in Masters.
We cancelled our family vacation, loaded everyone into the car and drove to Rimouski. We weren't the fastest team, or the most exciting, but we were reliable and we didn't make many mistakes, and by Sunday afternoon we'd earned 365 points and a nice red rosette.
And we were going to the Nationals! I called my mother in England and said, you remember that $100 you sent me? Well, it's taking us to the Canadian Championships! You might have heard her shriek of delight clear across the Atlantic. To say she was thrilled was an understatement. Cannelle and I practised all summer and trained hard. Not that I had any illusions about it. Obviously we weren't going to win; after all, the Nationals would only be the 8th trial we'd ever attended. But I wanted us to do our best and maybe even beat our 365-point record.
It turned out to be one of those weekends you never forget. Hot and sunny, hundreds of spectators. For those two days, we were all ambassadors for our sport. Cannelle and I spent a few hours at the SPCA booth, just to show people that even SPCA dogs can do things in life. And no, we didn't win. We finished in the middle of our class, as I'd expected - with 395 points this time. But you know what? Against all expectations my old SPCA dog with no papers, who couldn't manage spreads and wasn't even in Masters, pulled out the run of a lifetime and came fourth in one of her races, a jumper if you please, and earned a big black-and-white rosette for her trouble.
Today Cannelle is nine years old and will be retiring from competition in the coming months. In fact, we'd have retired a while ago if it wasn't for the fact that agility is a sport that's open to everyone. So of course there's a "veteran" class made to measure for old fogies like us who can no longer jump 22 inches without doing serious injury. It's given us an extra couple of years to compete and have fun and – who'd have thought it – maybe even get our ATChC.
We still need two more Qs, and there's a good chance we'll have to quit before we earn them. But even if we never get those two points, I'll still be able to look back at our National weekend and know that one day, my old SPCA dog and I stood up there on the podium, next to the big names. And that, my friends, is beyond price.
But that's not all. I have a daughter who's nearly five years old. A few months ago she asked me about the big black-and-white rosette hanging on the wall, and I told her the story of Cannelle the SPCA dog at the National Championships. She immediately decided that when she grows up, she also wants a dog of her own, so she can win big rosettes. Can kids do that, she asked me, and I told her of course they can, agility is a sport for everyone, even kids. So in the next few months, when Cannelle retires, we're going to get another dog and start over, my daughter and I together. In the meantime she's become a bona-fide member of the Master's ring crew at our club trials. Her job is to help build courses – she carries the poles and places the numbers. If you see her, be sure to wave. It's kids like her who represent the future of our sport.
There may well be some good reasons for increasing the point score requirement to 400. But if you do that, you'll be squashing a lot of dreams and excluding a lot of people and preventing a lot of little stories like mine from ever seeing the light of day. Personally, I think that would be a shame. And it certainly wouldn't be a logical move for a sport that, until now, has bent over backwards to include everybody, even SPCA dogs with no papers, who can't jump spreads, aren't in Masters and have gotten too old to jump 22 inches without doing serious damage.